What is Your Club's Philosophy?

What is Your Club's Philosophy?

Ask any American parent what they expect from a competitive youth soccer club and you will hear a variation of the following answer; "We want a club that focuses on player development - not just winning."  This sounds good, but I suspect that most American parents don't know what they are talking about and are merely repeating marketing buzzwords said by every club in America.  I contend that you must understand the club's soccer philosophy [or lack thereof] as a crucial part of evaluating your child's development. 

What is a soccer philosophy? The sportswriter Jed Davies sums it up nicely, "The club's philosophy is a set of beliefs about how soccer should be played on the field tactically. Soccer tactics are the strategy(-ies) employed by a team to defend, attack and everything in between (the two transitions of losing the ball and winning the ball)."

Philosophy? Where did you learn such a big word? Of course, you can't ask most (not all) American coaches what their club's philosophy is. If you did ask the question, which I don't recommend - the result would likely be one of the following; they would be clueless, the more savvy ones would rattle off some developmental marketing speak and/or worst, they would typecast you as the crazy soccer parent (which could negatively impact how they treat your child).  

My recommendation - Play dumb, (which in my case is not particularly hard) and ask them a few of the following questions - using as non-threatening of a tone as possible.

  • Assuming my child plays [pick a position] when our team has the ball, what do you expect to see him/her doing and what are some of the things he/she should be thinking about [at this age]?
  • When our team loses the ball, and he/she is playing [pick a position] what do you expect to see him/her doing and what are some of the things he/she should be thinking about [at this age]?
  • Bonus questions:
    • Are there specific things you expect to see them doing differently in the offensive and defensive thirds of the field?
    • Are there specific offensive and defensive technical skills that my child should be developing now in order to fit into this system as they get older?
    • Can you give me an example of some drills that you use during practice that focus on some of those areas?
Hold up - Do you know that feeling you get when a boss/spouse/or loved one says to you, "We need to talk"? Well, that is the feeling the coach or club director will get if you bombard them with all these questions.  I suggest spreading them out over the course of a season. I find that the best time to chat with a coach is after a win and never after a loss. If nothing else, at least you will put them on notice that you are watching with a critical eye. 

    Why does this matter? Clubs with clearly defined philosophies (and high expectations) typically have consistently better coaching. Think about in business, the highest performing companies have coherent strategies and simple metrics for evaluating employee performance.  This creates a culture where even the least experienced employees are empowered to exceed goals. Absent a clear philosophy (and high expectations), there is no coherent club culture.  This means that the quality of your child's coaching is random - based more on the coach's own disposition. Simply put, that is why most (not all) parents say, "The value of their child's training is tied almost exclusively to the coach that they happened to get." This should not be the case.

    My child is young, so we don't care about tactics? The fact that there are only two goals means that tactics are a part of soccer at any age. Of course, however, they play a minor role during the foundation phase.  For younger ages, skill acquisition is most important.  Therefore, for me, there is a central question. Is the club ensuring that my child masters the basic technical skills (dribbling, first touch, juggling/aerial, turning/changing direction, receiving and passing, finishing and 1v1) that will allow him/her to successfully adapt to almost any soccer philosophy in the future?

    Gotta love team sports - don't let the wins fool you. In youth soccer, many clubs inherent great individual talents that carry the team through from victory to victory. The fault-lines are only discovered (by the naive) after the team is confronted by a team that is superior technically and whose players can execute the club's tactical philosophy properly.

    Does your child have a birthday soon? Sporty Slaps make the perfect party favors for kids who love soccer.

     

     


     

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    • Manfred - March 08, 2019

      Neil, as requested, here you go, but might be the wrong post/topic:

      I had a group of players (girls) I was loyal to when I started coaching and I coached them for about 5 years (seasons) on and off. After their senior season, I quit coaching older kids and dropped down to the younger age group (u9-12) kids. Now, I dropped down for a couple of reasons, 1) wanted to just develop (fundamentals or technical skills) kids/players and 2) wasn’t interested in coaching to gain scholarships for players so didn’t want to be subjected to parents personal agendas.

      Yes, there are clicks in the older age groups and that’s inevitable because clicks start from the high schools and then the cities/neighborhoods since they’re also spending time together away from the soccer fields.

      After dropping down to the younger age group (u9-12), I spent about 3 years with a group of boys and great parents. From the onset, I communicated to the parents by philosophy, approach, and game plan for the team and their boys. I laid out a process and for my fist full season, we focused on fundamentals or technical skills development (passing, receiving, first touch, control, ball mastery/manipulation) because that’s what I cared about. 2nd full season we focused on decision making and defending. We became a very successful team and was admired by opponents during my almost 3 years stint.

      After my nearly 3 years stint, I decided to take a sabbatical from club soccer for several reasons: 1) parents expectations/goals started to switch towards focusing on wins and scholarships potential because of their financial investments; 2) my young family expansion; 3) it wasn’t fun for me either because players started focusing on what their parents were focusing on; and 4) I felt I had taken them as far as I could since they were moving up to 11v11 which I believed was more of a tactical development and I wasn’t interested.

      The clicks still existed at the younger age group, but it came more from the parents because of their affluence (or lack of), neighborhoods, and kids’ schools so the kids followed who their parents hung with.

      With all that said, I as the coach, did my best to create an inclusive and one team/family atmosphere by requiring lunches/dinners together whenever away or in between games. Also, planned/encouraged team events and activities (5K runs, pool parties, lake house, movies, sleepovers, volunteering, etc) to build/foster a stronger team bond not only on the field, but off of it as well because the kids will most likely always follow their parents since they see/know who their parents hang out with during the games or whenever.

      A caveat is that, I was a coach who only coached 1 team during a season and developed relationships because I got to know the players and their parents. Coaching was/is an extracurricular activity for me and not a full time job. Also, people forget that coaching is primarily teaching were relationships are built. How can a coach build relationships with kids when he/she is shuffling between teams, players, and practices? There is no time to build relationships if the coach is running to his next practice, game, or team. Anyway, I shall digress.

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